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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Literary Connections Phenomenon, or Why I May Wind Up On Hoarders

It's a well-known paradox of the literary life: The more you read, the more you realize you haven't read. And, thus, the more you want to read, the more books you seem to acquire (in the immortal words of Homer Simpson: "Damn you, ebay!") and then suddenly you end up with a to-be-read bookcase, or room, or entire strorage facility that's worthy of winning you a spot on the show Hoarders.

Here's how it happens for me: When I like a new book or writer, I find myself spending hours clicking through the the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" sections of Amazon for every novel or novelist remotely related to the book I just discovered. I try to find interviews in which the author talks about his/her influences or books s/he recommends. I look at the author's Web site or that of his/her publisher to try find other connections, no matter how tenuous. And, I scour the blogosphere to find out what book bloggers are saying about the novel and what connections to other books or writers they've made. All this usually yields quite a new list of authors and books, and so I set work on ebay, Better World Books, and many of the fine Chicago used bookstores. 

Oftentimes, these literary connections can open up whole new, unexplored literary landscapes. About five years ago, I took a chance on an obscure book of essays titled Consider the Lobster by some hippie-looking dude with three names. My favorite sports columnist, ESPN's The Sports Guy had recommended it, so I figured it was worth a shot. About halfway through the book, I realized my life had changed. I've since read nearly every word David Foster Wallace has written, tried some of his immediate influences like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, and read and loved many of the novelists who DFW has influenced. (Mark Danielewski, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem.)

By way of further example, last year, after reading Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You, I also found via literary connection Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets and Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper — two of my favorite books so far this year.

But this literary connection phenomenon/book hoarding obsession has a seedy underside, too. About six years ago, after reading The Da Vinci Code, I went temporarily crazy. I got obsessed with the whole religion/science/conspiracy genre thing and started reading connected books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Golden Ratio (which was actually kinda interesting), and one of the lowlights of my reading career, a six-book series titled the Zion Legacy Series. The absolute rock bottom, though, was when I tried Dan Brown's Digital Fortress — to this day, my immediate answer to the question "What's the worst book you've ever read?" My shelves are still littered with the detritus of that temporary insanity — obscure, probably-never-to-be read novels like Charles Palliser's The Quincunx and Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

Anyway...

Are you also obsessed with collecting novels connected to new novels you've loved? What impacting literary connections have you made? Any good stories? 

Monday, July 26, 2010

The New Dork's List of Quotations

Sometimes, losing the forest for the trees is just fine. Sometimes, the trees, individually, can be beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking or downright hilarious. When I'm reading and I find a "tree" I want to remember — a quote, a few sentences, a thought or idea — amidst the forest of a story, I'll stop and add it to what has now become a long document containing all my favorite book quotes.

Looking over my list just now, I figured it might be fun to toss a few of my favorites out your way in the hope that you'll toss a few more back my way. So, what are your favorite quotes from novels you've read?  Here is a smattering of mine:

DFW
It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.
— David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery and early death, lest we forget, is the common lot.
— Abraham Verghese, Cutting For Stone

A writer’s job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as our personal memories.
— John Irving, The World According To Garp

In a head-on collision with Fanatics, the real problem is always the same: how can we possibly behave decently toward people so arrogantly ignorant that they believe, first, that they possess Christ’s power to bestow salvation, second, that forcing us to memorize and regurgitate a few of their favorite Bible phrases and attend their church is that salvation, and third, that any discomfort, frustration, anger or disagreement we express in the face of their moronic barrages is due not to their astounding effrontery but to our sinfulness.
— David James Duncan, The Brothers K

Anyone who goes into writing has to find out somewhere along the line, he’s either na├»ve or insane.
— Leon Uris,  Mitla Pass

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state to another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.
— Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo



Franzen
I suppose that a country that teaches creationism in its schools may be forgiven for believing that baseball does not derive from cricket.
— Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
 
The world belongs to those who can describe it.
— Serge Bramly, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man

Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does.
— Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

In our hearts there is a ruthless dictator, ready to contemplate the misery of a thousand strangers if it will ensure the happiness of the few we love.
—Graham Green, The Heart of the Matter

Until you become yourself, what benefit can you be to others?
— Harold Bloom, How To Read and Why

Knowledge of the past gives men courage to face the future.
 — James A. Michener, Caribbean

We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.
— Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
— Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July's Compendium of Literary Links

The dog days of summer always seem to slow life down a bit, don't they? Similarly, compelling book-related news stories and/or content seem to have dwindled to a trickle as well. But I managed to find a few items of interest, so to continue what has become a monthly feature at The New Dork Review of Books, here's a short list of recent literary "things" in the news

1. The Millions' Future Releases List — There's so much to look forward to the rest of 2010! I mean, the new Franzen by itself makes me squirm with anticipation. But new books from Sara Gruen, Nicole Krauss, Philip Roth, and Tom Clancy (yeah, I sorta like Jack Ryan...) all make me wonder how in the name of Neal Stephenson I'm going to do all this reading. Which on this list are you looking forward to? (Also, in case you're tempted to bail out before the end of the post, the last item provides some info about David Foster Wallace's last novel — The Pale King. That just makes me giddy.)

2. E-books Sales Beat Hardcovers — Depending upon your e-book persuasion, Amazon's announcement that it sold more e-books than hardcovers in the second quarter of this year is either terrifying or exciting. Amazon says it sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardbacks in the second quarter, a rate which accelerated to 180 to every 100 in the past month, according to this article in Wired. It'd be easy to be skeptical about these numbers since Amazon is always so secretive and shady about its sales. But Publisher's Weekly reports that publishers are backing the numbers. And as an addendum to this, Amazon also acquired the e-book rights to a few titles by Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike, among others.

3. McEwan Whines — Have you read Solar?  I didn't think it was horrible, but it definitely wasn't McEwan's best effort. McEwan, however, defends his satire from the chilly reception by readers and critics in the U.S. by explaining that Americans are "profoundly bored" with climate change. From where I'm sitting, this couldn't be further from the truth. As the wonderful blogger "Jane Doe" at Dead White Guys tweeted this week, "Or maybe, McEwan, your book just sucks." Indeed. 

4. Frank, You're A Long Way From Ireland — Lindsay at Not-So-Gentle Reader just discovered the joys and wonders of Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes (as I did last fall). But instead of being cliche and writing a gushing review — since we already all know the book is amazing — Lindsay recorded this video blog of herself singing a tribute to McCourt and his memoir. Really good stuff!

Any literary items I've missed? What's caught your eye?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arthur Phillips Gets a Bum Rap

I really like Arthur Phillips. It's too bad not too many other people seem to. The two novels I've read of his (The Song Is You, Prague) hit the dead center of the sweet spot regarding  why I love reading. Phillips's prose is a nice blend of erudite and low-brow humor, which as a reader, makes you alternate between contemplating his profundity and laughing out loud at what amounts to the literary version of fart jokes. His characters leap off the page, people you want to meet and have a beer with. And his stories are smart, often intense, and, for the most part, just a joy to read.

But for whatever reason, Phillips prose, stories, and/or characters seems to rub many other readers the wrong way. He's dull, he's an elitist, he's creepy, he's just not a good storyteller, they say. I disagree. And, if you'll permit me, here is a moderately impassioned defense of why I like Phillips in general and The Song Is You and Prague specifically: 

The Song Is You
If we'd met around this time last year, you'd probably already be annoyed with me for talking near-constantly about The Song Is You. It was one of my favorite novels of last year. When I finished it, I wrote in my "reading log" the day after finishing it that "I absolutely loved this novel — in fact, I don't think I've read a novel in a long, long time I enjoyed reading as much as this one."

The novel is about a middle-aged man named Julian and a young, beautiful singer named Cait O'Dwyer who is on the cusp of fame. The two sort of circle each other in a strange muse/artist dance in which Julian really toes the line between adoring fan and stalker. In fact, many of the women who read the novel didn't like it because they say they felt Julian does cross that line. I liked it precisely because I didn't think he did.

The novel also includes an absolutely hysterical set piece regarding Julian's brother and an "incident" that includes an unintentional racial slur while a contestant on Jeopardy. You just have to read this yourself for the full effect. Phillips himself was a five-time champion on Jeopardy in 1997 (when he was only 28 years old). Here's my full review on amazon, if you're interested. It provides more detail and a much more impassioned defense.

Prague
Prague isn't as easily defensible, but I still really liked it. I wrote, after finishing it, "I'm not really sure what to make of this novel — I definitely LOVE Phillips' style (sarcasm, humor, irony, beautiful sentences, cerebral descriptions, wonderful metaphors), and there were parts of the novel that had me fully engrossed, but other parts in which I found myself skimming or blanking out." Since writing that after I read the novel last summer, though, the story has really grown on me — and stayed with me, which is surely one of the measures the efficacy of a novel, right? 

The novel, Phillips 2002 debut, is about a group of ex-pats living in Budapest in the early 90s. Many people didn't much like this novel at all. It only averages 2.5 stars for the 159 reviews on amazon — which, to me, is WAY too low. I'd give it four, probably — just for the prose, and the fact that the point of the story (about authenticity) is profound and thought-provoking. The book actually sold pretty well when it first came out, and most critics liked it — Janet Maslin of the NY Times called it an "ingenious debut novel."

I haven't read Phillips's other two novels: The Egyptologist, which is a convoluted mystery tale of archaeology told through letters, and Angelica, a commercial flop (it's #455,554 on amazon right now!) which tells the same ghost story from four different perspectives, insisting that the reader determine what really happened. I have both of these on my shelf, just haven't gotten to them yet.
So, have you read Arthur Phillips? Like him or loathe him? Any feedback on his novels? 

(Side note that has very little to do with any of this: Last summer, I was on my way to meet Arthur Phillips at a reading/signing, and got a flat tire, so I never made it — as if the universe was trying to tell me something. I don't know what. Just something.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Multimedia Review: Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne

1. Podcast — Interview With Teddy Wayne 
Click "play" below to hear Teddy Wayne and I discuss his debut novel Kapitoil. The novel is about a computer program named Karim Issar, haling from the country Qatar, who comes to New York in the fall of 1999 to help his company Schrub Equities deal with the Y2K bug. Along the way, he writes a program that can accurately predict oil futures. Hilarity, and a huge moral dilemma, ensue.


2. My Kapitoil Review
Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne


You might expect a character like Karim Issar, who corrects others' grammar, who doesn't get humor, whose language is sprinkled with techno-financial business geek speak, and who lays out his decision-making processes in painstaking, ultra-logical detail, to not be the most likable fellow you've ever read. But you'd be wrong — Karim is actually a wonderfully sympathetic, interesting character. And his story is equally sympathetic, interesting, and fun.

Karim's story begins in the fall of 1999 with a cross-Atlantic flight, during which he makes up math problems to amuse himself. Karim is coming to American to work on the Y2K problem in the New York office of the investment company he'd worked for in Doha, Qatar. After a co-worker steals credit for a profitable program he develops, he's more cautious with his next endeavor: The Kapitoil program, which accurately predicts oil futures and makes his struggling company a crapload of cash.

Meanwhile, Karim also explores the nightlife of New York, heading out to clubs, museums and parties with his clownish co-workers. Through an often painful (but fun to read) trial-and-error process, he slowly learns American etiquette on everything from one-night stands to interoffice crushes. Soon, circumstances force Karim into a tough choice regarding Kapitoil, and his traditional Qatari values collide with the possibility to make a ton of money for himself — but at a pretty hefty moral cost.

It's a straightforward narrative, but Karim's voice and Wayne's writing are anything but. Karim's voice, as Wayne explains in the podcast above, is the result of Wayne's desire to write a novel with an idiosyncratic voice guiding the narrative as well as his want to use language to be disruptive— but in a good way, because Karim's false starts with language and violations of American etiquette make you cringe and laugh at the same time. And as Karim begins learning the ways of New York, the novel begins to move from a laugh-at-Karim, to now laughing-with-Karim dynamic. He slowly begins to "get it" and as his moral dilemma arrives, you're confident he's now equipped with the tools to make the right decision. But will he? 

If you're a fan hip, urban fiction, you'll dig this.  If you enjoyed the way Jonathan Safran Foer wrote his character Alex in Everything is Illuminated — stilted, just-a-bit-off-English — you'll really enjoy Karim specifically but also the novel on the whole. It's a quick read and definitely one worth checking out, especially if you're someone (like me) who enjoys "getting in on the ground floor" of talented new novelists, like Mr. Wayne. But this isn't just some obscure novel from a writer you'll never hear from again — Teddy Wayne writes frequently for the New York Times (and many other pubs) and Kapitoil was blurbed by Jonathan Franzen and given a coveted "starred review" by both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist.


3. Book Trailer



(Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review. That would've been nice, though.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Discussion About Life of Pi

So I really screwed the pooch on this one. But I can admit when I'm wrong, so my apologies to the approximately 1,252 people who have told me at some point during the last several years how much they loved Life of Pi, and at whom I secretly snickered behind their backs.

Life of Pi is that one novel that I've consciously avoided. The reason is because I had several mistaken impressions about what it really was — it was about a talking tiger, it was a shamelessly religious novel, it was a silly kid's book. And I never did much deeper thinking or reading about the book to correct those wrongs.

A few weeks ago, I found a cheap mass market paperback at an independent bookstore here in Chicago, and I wanted to buy something there, so I grabbed it — and then read it in about three sittings. I  won't say it'll ever be my favorite novel of all time, but it actually is really, really good. More importantly, it fulfilled one of my favorite criteria regarding good fiction: It made me think really hard about some pretty deep, heady questions.

Formally reviewing this novel at this point — after everyone and their brother's sister has read it — would be akin to trying to find something new to say about Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby. So, instead, because so many people have read it, and because this is a book that screams to be discussed, let's have a conversation here.

(SPOILER ALERT - if you haven't read the novel yet, you may want to stop here.)

So if I'm not mistaken, the rub seems to be related to the existence of God, and how organized religion (ritual, belief systems, etc.) supplements or is detrimental to our understanding of God. This isn't apparent until the end, though. Even as we follow Pi through the first section in Pondicherry, India, and wonder with him why he can't be Hindu, Muslim and Christian all at once, it's not apparent what the religious discussions may have to do with anything else, other than just showing that Pi takes a rather philosophical approach to theology. As he begins to fall into a routine (ritual?) on his life raft, he stops a few times to ponder existentially about his place in the universe. But, at that point, I was still just reading the novel as an headier-than-thou adventure story. 

It's not really until the last section when Pi tells the "alternate" and much more horrific version of the story to the Japanese business men, and then tells them they should decide on the story they like better. Of course, he's also telling the reader s/he must decide, too  — and not just about his story, about whether or not you want to believe there's a God, because you can't prove that there is, and you can't prove that there isn't. So pick the story you like more.

So, which story did you pick — do you think the tiger story is the real one, or the more gruesome story about the cook and the sailor and Pi's mother?  (My vote is the latter.)

Also, anyone have any favorite passages? This book is wonderfully written, and I found myself stopping and rereading sections just to better digest the language. My favorite is the entire Chapter 78 — Martel begins by describing the sky and then the sea, and then moves onto a discussion about opposites and duality. "The worst pair of opposites is boredom and terror." I just loved it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

An Evening With Jonathan Tropper

Ain't it great when a writer you admire turns out to be as funny and entertaining in person as he is on the page? Such is the case with Mr. Tropper, who I caught last night at a signing/reading on his tour to promote the release of the paperback version of This Is Where I Leave You, one of my favorite novels of 2009.

Put it this way: If Jon's careers as a novelist and screenwriter don't work out, stand up comedy wouldn't be a stretch. He's quick-witted, smooth, sarcastic and damn funny — seemingly very similar in real life to the fictional wise-cracking, smart ass main characters in his novels.

In fact, when someone asked him the inevitable (and annoying) question about how much of his writing is autobiographical, he smirked and deadpanned "None of it." Then he paused, laughed, backed himself up a bit, and explained that any writer who says that there isn't at least a kernel of autobiography in his fiction is lying. He said that of any of his books, Everything Changes (my review here), along with being possibly his favorite, is the most autobiographical. The novel is about an early-30s New Yorker who pees blood one day, freaks out that he might have cancer, and then falls in love with his dead best friend's widow while dealing with the return of his clownish, Viagra-popping father Norm. Tropper made it clear that none of that had actually happened to him, leaving us to wonder what about the novel made it most autobiographical for him.

Tropper began the event by talking about how he developed the story for This Is Where I Leave You, presumably preemptively striking against the "Where do you get your ideas?" question. He said he wanted to write a book about a guy who loses his job and wife in one fell swoop. And then, to add insult to injury (and comedy for his reader), he wanted to send his character to the worst possible place he could imagine when things were low: his parents house. But he needed a way to keep him there for more than 20 minutes, so he converted the family to Judaism, killed the father, and had them sit shiva — all in one afternoon of creative inspiration. That was a productive afternoon, he said.

A woman commented that the character Judd in This Is Where I Leave You is every woman's worst-nightmare regarding how men think. This made me laugh, because I thought Judd, if a little depraved and more honest than might be socially acceptable, was actually pitch perfect for how dudes think. Tropper also laughed, and said, "So is the question 'Do all men think like that?' Well, I have bad news for you..." He conceded a little, explaining that Judd is "sexually angry" because he'd just caught his wife in bed with his boss, so that's the lens through which readers should look at him over the course of the rest of the book. In other words, there's a part of Judd in every dude, but because Judd is a bit damaged at the moment, not every dude lacks the impulse control Judd seems to, in both thoughts and deeds. 

A few other notes from the event:
— Tropper changed publishers between Everything Changes and This Is Where I Leave You, actually paying to get out of his contract because he was fed up with the way his former publisher was marketing his novels, and was especially annoyed by their ridiculous covers. Yeah, he said he despises the Everything Changes cover — he said he thought he'd written a novel about a guy in crisis, and then what do they put on the cover? A giant vagina. He also hated the original cover for How To Talk To A Widower (my review here) — a novel about death whose cover makes it look like a teen comedy. Thankfully, his past books have been re-published with new covers more closely resembling the design of This Is Where I Leave You.

— I asked him how he translates his humor to the page, since jokes, one-liners and especially sarcasm don't always translate well in black and white print. He said he doesn't try to write funny, he just writes. That's his style, his personality. I might not have believed that without actually meeting him, but it's pretty apparent from the way he is that that is the case.

— He's written a screenplay for This Is Where I Leave You (it's kind of a rarity for writers to adapt their own novels), which currently has a "famous" director attached and is in development at Warner Brothers. He said he's hopeful the movie will get made, but he's not holding his breath. As a screenwriter also, he seems pretty jaded and disenchanted with Hollywood. "Any movie that doesn't have a super hero doesn't get made anymore."

— He said his favorite novelist is Richard Russo, who actually also adapted his own novel — Empire Falls — for an HBO miniseries.

Here's the rest of Tropper's book tour schedule. If he's coming to your city, I'd highly, highly recommend checking him out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spreading Some Mid-Summer Book Blogger Love

I love writing about books — and The New Dork Review of Books has been an endless source of fun and intellectual challenge. It's also created an opportunity for discovering others passionate about reading and writing about books, and that's something I hadn't really expected at all when I started this blog back in October 2009.

It's been as much fun to find other great book blogs, and learn about novels and authors that hadn't crossed my radar, as it has writing about books myself. So I thought I'd take a post to pass on a quick Top 5 list of my favorite "amateur" book bloggers.

All of these blogs have a few things in common: They mostly focus on contemporary literary fiction. They're incredibly well written. And they consistently make me laugh, think and go scurrying to amazon or BN to find the book they've just reviewed.

Enjoy!

1. The Reading Ape — Consistently witty and fun to read, the strength of The Ape's blog is challenging his readers to think and read beyond his posts, no matter whether he's reviewing a novel or explaining his take on some literary happening — like the dearth of male book bloggers or the e-reader wars. His take on the Book Expo America was one of the finest blog posts I've read. 

2. A Home Between the Pages — Rachel's style is a nice mix of humor, a great conversational tone and review rigor — which gives her blog a really unique, fun flavor. Plus, you can always count on one thing at A Home Between the Pages: You'll have no trouble figuring out where she stands on a novel. A good example is her review of the The Help.

3. The Ken — This fellow Chicago blogger is a whirlwind. Simply take a peak at his multi-part review of Roberto Bolano's 2666 to discover that for yourself. Ken is a very smart writer and an excellent reader — and both qualities are always on full display in his posts. One of my favorite features of his blog is that he frequently points out stupid reviews on amazon — and takes quite a bit of pleasure in dressing them down.

4. Primo Reads — Janna and I seem to have similar taste in books — like me, she's recently discovered the joys of Jonathan Tropper and, also like me, she's a big Richard Russo fan. Her well-written reviews are short and to the point, which makes it easy to get a gist of the book and her opinion of it quickly and simply.

5. Entomology of a Bookworm — Kerry posts on a wide variety of book-related topics, including reviews, quotes, and general musings about her reading life. I loved her recent post about "to-read" lists. She's quite the prolific blogger — usually posting several times a week.

So, there you have it. Who is on your list of favorite book bloggers?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Juxtaposition: Profiles of David Mitchell and James Patterson

Enjoy this — it may be the one and only time you'll find David Mitchell, British postmodernist extraordinaire, and James Patterson, prolific purveyor of the Alex Cross series of thrillers, mentioned within literary shouting distance of each other. But because both published new novels this week, both were recent subjects of entertaining profile articles that I thought are worth pointing out for a few different reasons.

Let's take Patterson first. If you're expecting a good genre fiction-bashing here, I'm sorry to disappoint. Believe it or not, after reading the 10 Questions feature in Time, I gained a somewhat begrudging respect for Patterson. When a reader asks how he'd respond to critics who say he's not a good prose stylist, he responds simply that "I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller." I loved that!

Earlier in the piece, he had said that his writing is all about story, story, story. As a genre-fiction writer, he's right on the money, isn't he? I mean, who's reading genre fiction for anything other than for the escapism of an enthralling story? Story is king.

Without getting into a whole big thing here, in literary fiction, a so-so story can be carried on the strength of prose or other literary flair, but not so in mass-market thrillers, where a reader isn't examining the symbolism behind Alex Cross' color choice of necktie. So, despite the fact that he may not even actually pen all the novels that bear his name and despite the fact the ones he does pen may not exactly be works of literary art, it was refreshing to see Patterson admit that he's not James Joyce. And then he concluded by throwing in a barb at his critics as well: "There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do." I loved that, too — a genre fiction writer with a little edge to him! 

Secondly, I love that Patterson says his two favorite novels are Ulysses and One Hundred Years of Solitude. You can't help but respect that, right? (His new book, by the way, is titled Private.)

Now let's move from a novelist who enjoys reading James Joyce to a novelist whose writing has been compared to Joyce, as this wonderful profile article in the NY Times Magazine points out.  The article gives readers an engrossing, fun-to-read introduction to David Mitchell, by all accounts one of the more innovative and fresh novelists who has published in a long, long time. "Formal ingenuity...is just one feature of Mitchell’s excellence," says the piece's writer, Wyatt Mason. (Mitchell's new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet came out June 29.)

The whole piece is great, but I loved the first few paragraphs the most — as Mitchell explains an encounter with a fan in New Zealand and how that episode has taught him to stay humble. "False modesty can be worse than arrogance," he says.  Indeed! This discussion of modesty is one Mason returns to later in the piece, when we learn from one of Mitchell's former professors, that modesty has always been one of his cornerstone qualities.

This is what I loved learning most about the well-traveled, worldly Mitchell, who enjoys a "cult following" and "'Lost'-like fanaticism" among his fans. One of the characteristics of novelists (and humans) that turns me off most is arrogance — hence, my seething disdain for Dan Brown. But despite his genius, Mitchell is just a dude — much like David Foster Wallace was, and part of the reason why DFW is my all-time favorite writer.

So, this article has greatly accelerated my timetable for reading Mitchell — in fact, now I'm really embarrassed to admit I haven't. But, I just picked up Mitchell's Cloud Atlas over the weekend, and Thousand Autumns (which, shockingly, was mostly well-reviewed by the NY Times' resident fiction hater, Michiko Kakutani) arrived in the mail earlier this week. I can't wait.

I haven't read Patterson either, but I enjoyed his responses to those questions enough that I'm willing to give him a shot next time I need a good plane read.

Help me out — any Patterson or Mitchell fans care to weigh in on their experiences with reading either?